Currently living in New York, with childhood memories ranging from Melbourne to Hong Kong, Ward Roberts has amassed a body of exquisitely composed photographic work that defies prevailing trends of visceral, carnal exposure. Roberts’s pictures of pastel-drenched playing courts and the massive housing blocks surrounding them are more evocative of David Hockney paintings than of today’s photographic flash.
His portraits appear to have conjured their human subjects out of the air that surrounds them. Take a breath of atmospheric, painterly symmetry on the Ward Roberts web gallery. If that inhalation starts you feeling really heady, order Ward Roberts’s book of prints, Courts 2.
The Skeeve: What is the importance of travel in your photography?
Ward Roberts: What’s really important for me, in my work, is to find a connecting strand to society, something that a lot of people can relate to all over the world, whether it’s a specific community-based space like a [basketball] court or something more abstract. Even with portraits, I look for the universal aspect, which might not be obvious at first sight. For example, with the O series, I didn’t choose my subjects based on their cultural background but based on their skin color. I wanted the subjects’ skin to blend with the sky, with the sky being the universal element. When I’m traveling, I’m always looking for those universal elements.
The Skeeve: What has been your most satisfying success?
Ward Roberts: My 48 Hours series won a few awards and was recognized at photography festivals in different parts of the world. That was really nice. It was a very personal and emotionally charged series. I’m mostly known for my brightly colored, saturated images; so it was great to see people connect with something darker and very close to me.
The Skeeve: Why art?
Ward Roberts: It’s like therapy to me. I’ve heard so many artists say that, and it sounds trite, but it’s true. I use photography to ask questions about human nature and about my own perception of the world. I use it to try to give a visual form to some of my ideas or emotions. Why do I feel the need to photograph certain spaces or to explore certain themes? I have to keep doing it to find out.
The Skeeve: What do you hope for going forward?
Ward Roberts: After releasing the second Courts book, I’m excited about releasing my next series, which has been in the works for the past two years. It’s very different from Courts, with darker underlying themes. I have no idea how people are going to react to it, but I’m excited to find out.
The Skeeve: What is great about the last three places you’ve lived?
Ward Roberts: I love New York because there’s so much creative talent and energy there. Everyone wants to contribute something unique to their field. There’s something great about feeling like you’re surrounded by people who are having or will have an impact on the world. That’s what’s amazing about New York. Melbourne is very relaxed. For me, it’s all about comfort. I grew up there, and my family and old friends are still there. It’s a pretty, happy, comfortable place where I can have a well-rounded lifestyle and enjoy myself. I call Hong Kong my muse. Every time I go there, I get new ideas and want to start a new series.
All photos copyright Ward Roberts.